Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Human beings are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator": Laudato Si', 76-83

Continuing the biblical commentary he began in Monday's excerpts, in these passages Francis explores our understanding of the universe as a gift, divine in origin, dynamic in its action, but fragile by nature, requiring our care. (A brief note on sources: These excerpts exemplify Francis's wide-ranging sources throughout the document. His sources include a patristic theologian [Basil], a medieval theologian [Aquinas], a medieval poet [Dante], several recent popes, a 20th century theologian [Teilhard de Chardin, SJ], and - although he is not mentioned by name - the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, whose I and Thou, though slow reading, is immensely rewarding.)


76. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.

77. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps 33:6)…. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion…. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wis 11:24)…. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure”,[44] while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars”.[45] Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy”.[46]

78. At the same time, Judaeo-Christian thought demythologized nature. While continuing to admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes all the more our human responsibility for nature…. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power….

80. …God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done. “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most complex and inscrutable”.[48] Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator.[49] God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs.[50]… The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”.[52]

81. Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art… are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou”….

82. Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination…. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity…. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus….

83. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.[53] Here we can add yet another argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving… towards a common point of arrival… where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.


[44] Hom. in Hexaemeron, I, 2, 10: PG 29, 9.

[45] The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 145.

[46] Benedict XVI, Catechesis (9 November 2005), 3: Insegnamenti 1 (2005), 768.

[48] John Paul II, Catechesis (24 April 1991), 6: Insegnamenti 14 (1991), 856.

[49] The Catechism explains that God wished to create a world which is “journeying towards its ultimate perfection”, and that this implies the presence of imperfection and physical evil; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 310.

[50] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 36.

[52] Thomas Aquinas, In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio, Lib. II, lectio 14.

[53] Against this horizon we can set the contribution of Fr Teilhard de Chardin; cf. Paul VI, Address in a Chemical and Pharmaceutical Plant (24 February 1966): Insegnamenti 4 (1966), 992-993; John Paul II, Letter to the Reverend George Coyne (1 June 1988): Insegnamenti 11/2 (1988), 1715; Benedict XVI, Homily for the Celebration of Vespers in Aosta (24 July 2009): Insegnamenti 5/2 (2009), 60.

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